We are so pleased to share our ACG Top Ten of 2020. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it. You may also like to check out our 2020 ACG Education Report. If you would like to support our artists and services here at ACG, click here

We started out unsure if we’d even make a Top Ten list this year. We’ve always approached this annual retrospective in a spirit of celebration, fun, and even silliness, so at the end of a year filled with so many difficult challenges, we wondered if we ought to skip it this time. But once we got to reminiscing about some of the amazing and beautiful moments that happened over the past 12 months, we decided that maybe a little celebration, fun, and silliness could be just what we need right now. 

Of course, even in a more typical year, our process of deciding the Top Ten list is filled with haggling and negotiation. And we have no doubt you’ll have differing ideas than ours. We’d love to hear them! Was there something of significance at ACG we’ve forgotten to mention? Email us your thoughts.

So with those disclaimers, we are excited to present, in a modified chronological order, the ACG Top Ten of 2020:

#10 together

Whoa, this seems like a lifetime ago. But what a memory! together was our entire theme of 2019-2020. Read all about it here. We organized our concerts and services around the idea of togetherness. How especially ironic, then, that the season would bring with it the greatest existential threat to physical togetherness in our lifetimes? together the concert experience occurred in January. It was a deep work about isolation and connection, Joe WIlliams and Travis Marcum led this, the third installment of three community-based arts works that began with i/we (2017), progressed to dream (2018), and ended with together

#9 dream The Movie

Also in January we premiered our first ever feature film. Holy cow! Director Alonso Lujan took the audio (mastered by Todd Waldron) from our 2019 community project dream and made cinematic magic. The film brings visual life to the hopes, dreams, and fears of Austin youth and the beautiful compositions and arrangements performed by world class artists. Make some popcorn, grab your favorite beverage, turn up the volume, and get lost in this one!

#8 Lively Middle School Dance & Guitar

Perhaps our favorite thing about music is that it goes all over the place. It goes with words and with images. You can do it by yourself or you can do it with others. You can listen to it and talk about it. David Russell played our last live event before the pandemic on March 7th. He and Maria came to Austin early and met with students, taught, and talked about their philanthropic work. He played with kids for a video we’ll be sharing in the new year! And right before his concert, Meredith McAlmon’s guitar students and Claire Barclay’s dance students from Lively Middle School presented a simply astonishing collaboration.

#7 Svirajmo Gitaru! (Let’s Play!)

Our braille lifelong learning system launched in November in its first full translation for use throughout the Balkan Peninsula! You can check it out online here

We are super grateful to our whole team and to our partner in Montenegro, Rados Malidzan, for raising the funds and striking the alliances throughout the Balkans not only to make the extensive audio and text translations, but also arrange for free braille printing and distribution in multiple countries to maximize the resource’s utility.

#6 Eric Pearson, Virtual Concert Wizard

That’s right, Eric gets a whole slot all to himself! ACG’s Director of Curriculum by day,  when the pandemic hit in March he basically figured out how to make high-level concerts happen in real time using remote technology. Like, he literally hand-assembled tech rigs to be mailed across the country, set up, and then piloted by our team in Austin so we could hear, for example, Pepe Romero playing live from his living room in California. Wanna learn more? Read all about Eric and this system online here. Or just watch this Pepe Romero video and be amazed!

#5 i/we 2020

The original i/we changed us forever. Over the years there have been a few tectonic shifts at ACG, and this was one of them. It was January 2017, our nation had endured a tough political season with friends and families divided, and we were asking ourselves what might an arts organization do to offer help and healing? ACG’s Artistic Director Joe Williams and Education Director Travis Marcum joined spirits to envision a community-centered artwork, and the result was i/we, a multi-media chamber work built around Travis’ interviews with refugees newly settling in Austin. Fast-forward to pandemic life 2020, another contentious election cycle, and a world awakening to the realities of racial inequity and injustice. Once again, i/we emerged as particularly resonant and relevant to the time we were in.   

For our re-imagining of i/we 2020 in October we enlisted the partnership of ARCOS dance company. Director/choreographer Erica Gionfriddo paired 4 magnificent dancers, Bonnie Cox, Ginnifer Joe, Kaitlyn Jones, & Oddalys Salcido, with each of the four movements to be explored and reexamined  through the lens of each artist. Then ARCOS filmmaker Eliot Gray Fisher created cinematic magic in – and above – locations around Texas. 

Learn about our collaborators ARCOS dance and the creators online here. Enjoy this excerpt from the production.


#4 Ofrendas

We lost a lot in 2020. We said goodbye to our way of life in a lot of ways, and being together in a meaningful way became very challenging. There is a tradition in Mexico and Latin America where loved ones who have passed away are honored by placing their favorite foods, drink, or other significant objects on altars. These objects, called “ofrendas” or “offerings”, are believed to help guide and welcome the spirits of our departed loved ones back home to celebrate Día de Muertos. In collaboration with Mexic-Arte Museum, and led by our Director of Operations Salvador Garcia, who joined Joe Williams as the co-Artistic Director of this project, we commissioned 20 short music-video ofrendas from local artists, and received many dozens more from community members. We invite you to experience some of these captivating tributes in the playlist below, or read a story from one of our individual contributors online here.

#3 Music & Healing

At the very heart of ACG’s Music & Healing services is deep listening and caring through time spent, one on one, together. So when the pandemic made social distancing the new normal, we were relieved to discover that not only could our Music & Healing work continue by video conference, but in some ways it even added accessibility for our participants by taking away drive time and the challenges of coordinating on-location appointments in the hospitals, shelters, and clinics we partner with to offer our services. So, against all odds, ACG Music & Healing actually expanded its capacity this year, with an amazing roster of artist-clinicians, including Claudia Chapa, Arnold Yzaguirre, Daniel Fears, Claire Puckett, John Churchill, and Director Travis Marcum, serving more people than ever. 

In honor of Veterans Day we shared two special songs created with two veterans in partnership with The Georgetown Arts and Culture Program, Resilient Me Military Expressive Arts Programs, and country music artist Wynn Williams.

This video has two excerpts from the last zoom songwriting sessions with Wynn and Travis where John and Bobby heard their complete songs for the very first time. The first song is called A Prayer for the Living, and was written by John Hill with Travis Marcum and Wynn Williams. John was an Army medic in Afghanistan, and wanted to write a song for fellow service members struggling with the pain they hold onto after the experience of war. The second song is called When Blue Stars Turn Gold, written by Bobby Withrow with Wynn Williams and Travis Marcum. Bobby served in the Navy and now runs the Texas Fallen Project where he supports families all over the state who have lost loved ones in battle. A Gold Star Family is one that has lost a member in service. Bobby wanted to write a song that helps people understand the need to honor our fallen soldiers and to support their loved ones who are fighting their own battle every day.

#2 ACG Education: Everything Changes at Once

ACG’s education programs in schools are designed for classroom settings, with students learning and playing guitar together,  so you can imagine how urgent the need was to adapt and innovate this spring when schools closed their doors. The ACG Education team – Travis Marcum, Jeremy Osborne, Eric Pearson, Jess Griggs, Phil Swasey, and intern Cindy De Blas Castillo – sprang into action. We hosted weekly online discussions with partner teachers near and far, heard their struggles and needs, and worked to offer solutions as fast as possible. 

We purchased over 200 guitars for students who didn’t have instruments at home, pivoted to remote instruction for our programs in the juvenile justice system, and we hired additional teaching artists to expand our Free Lessons Initiative.

When summer hit, we shifted our annual Teacher Summits online – a monumental task! – and developed new approaches for Virtual Classrooms that teachers could learn from and deploy in the fall. 

The biggest challenge was to maintain a sense of connection through artistry of personal significance. Perhaps our proudest achievement from the spring was Everything Changes at Once, a collaborative performance piece created by Travis Marcum to engage guitar students at all levels, and encourage personal expression by incorporating their video, photo, and spoken word contributions. 

We’re incredibly grateful to the amazing teachers who hung in there, grew, learned, adapted, persevered, and all those amazing students who did the same. The beautiful results we’ve seen are a testament to courage and resilience, and to the power of music to bring us together even against the odds.

For a deep dive into our education work, we invite you to review our 2020 Education Report.

#1 Our Community!

We are overwhelmed with gratitude and amazed by everyone who made the choice to believe in beauty and togetherness with us this past year, and for all of ACG’s 30 years. For the last nine months we presented all of our concerts for free, and so many of you chose to donate. We moved our youth and community ensembles online, and so many of you took the leap with us. We embraced new approaches to making and sharing art, and so many incredibly talented artists innovated and collaborated with us. We needed partners and spaces to produce events, and friends from Big Medium, ARCOS, Mexic-Arte, One World Theatre, Austin ISD, and The Contemporary Austin answered the call. We needed support to buy guitars for kids who didn’t have them, to acquire the technology and personnel for high-quality streaming concerts, to sustain our vital programs, and our community stepped forward in a way we’ll never forget. Thank you.